Top Employment Discrimination Attorneys Answer: What is the best way to get a religious accommodation at work? Can I be fired for asking for a religious accommodation from my employer? Can my employer force me to work on the Sabbath?
All employees are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and, in Ohio under R.C. § 4112.02(A), from being discriminated against or retaliated against by their employers on the basis of their race/color, religion, gender/sex, national origin, age, or disability. These employment laws make it unlawful for employers to use one of these protected characteristics in making decisions regarding hiring, promotion, wrongful discharge, pay, fringe benefits, job training, classification, referral, and other aspects of employment. In addition, for two of these categories, both federal and Ohio employment laws add the extra requirement of accommodation. By this, I mean that while all of the protected classes preclude employers from taking the above actions, the employment laws on disabilities and religion also require the employer to take certain affirmative steps to accommodate employees. Yesterday, our employment lawyers blogged about the process to get a disability accommodation from your job. (See Do I Have A Disability Discrimination Case?)
And, while our employment discrimination lawyers have previously blogged about religious work accommodations as required under the federal and Ohio law, a recent $21 million verdict for an employee in Florida gives us reason to circle back to this topic. So, let’s jump into the case. (See Can I Sue My Employer For Not Accommodating My Religious Dress? I Need A Lawyer!; Can I Sue if I Was Fired Because Of My Religion? I Need The Best Lawyer Reply!; Can I Sue A Religious Employer For Employment Discrimination? I Need A Lawyer!; and Can My Boss Fire Me If She Thinks I’m A Certain Religion But I’m Not? I Need An Employment Lawyer!)
Marie Jean Pierre worked as a dishwasher at the Conrad Miami, a high-end hotel in Miami, Florida that currently cost about $300-400 per night. The hotel was owned by Park Hotels & Resorts, formerly known as Hilton Worldwide. According to her religious discrimination lawsuit, Pierre is a devout Christian, including being a member of the Soldiers of Christ Church, a Catholic missionary group that helps the poor. Pierre testified that she told her employer right from the start of employment in approximately 2006 that her religious beliefs prohibited her from working on Sundays. She said that Sundays are for honoring G-d. According to Pierre, three years after not working Sundays, in 2009, her manager attempted to schedule her on a Sunday causing her to tell her boss that would cause her to resign. Her employer conceded and took off the Sunday schedule at that time. Since this is part of an employment law blog, you can probably guess that the employer eventually screwed this up.
In 2015, the employer’s kitchen manager decided that he was tired of accommodating Pierre and “demanded” that she start working on Sundays. At trial, there was evidence that the employer temporarily permitted her to trade her Sunday shifts with other coworkers, but that this was eventually pulled away too.
After continuing to try to resolve this issue and complaining about the religious discrimination, Pierre testified that her employer fired for alleged misconduct, negligence and unexcused absences on March 31, 2016. This is not surprising. It is not uncommon for our employment discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination lawyers to encounter situations where longtime good employees with no or very little history of discipline suddenly have a file full of progressive discipline or are fired for misconduct shortly after making a complaint of discrimination. The legal term for this is “pretext,” which basically means lies told by employers as justification for getting rid of employees for the wrong reasons. Luckily, juries often not only see through this type of bullshit but get angry about it because it is essentially challenging the intelligence of those jurors. It is like the employer lying with a straight face and telling the jury that we think you are gullible or dumb enough to believe us.
Let’s go over the employer’s pretext in this case. They argued that did not know that Pierre was a missionary and never knew exactly why she always wanted Sundays off. Essentially, they wanted the jury to believe that for 10 whole years, all the bosses, managers, and supervisors that oversaw the schedule just let Pierre pick whatever schedule she wanted and said okay without asking a question. Remember, she was a dishwasher, not some high-level mega-money generating executive that had level to dictate when she worked. If you are an hourly worker, try to image walking in and telling your boss that you no longer wanted to work on Tuesdays. See how that goes. Even the employer could not keep their story straight because, in announcing their intent to appeal the verdict, their spokesperson said, “During Ms. Pierre’s ten years with the hotel, multiple concessions were made to accommodate her personal and religious commitments.” Well, gee, how the hell did you accommodate her religious commitments if you did not know about them!
Under the ADA, employers must make “reasonable accommodation” to accommodate the religious beliefs of their employees unless such accommodation would create an undue hardship on the employer. The hotel in this case would have a huge problem arguing an undue hardship because it already provided the requested accommodation of giving Pierre off on Sundays for almost 10 years. When an employer was able to previously provide the religious accommodation, there is a strong presumption that such accommodation does not create an undue hardship on the employer.
Another important point to consider from this case is that the employment discrimination laws protect every religion – not just minority religions. Pierre was Catholic. She could have been Muslim, Hindu, Jewish or Mormon. Title VII, as well as the corresponding Ohio law, do not mention particular religions. The laws also do not mention specific races, genders, or national origins (it does mention specific ages – over 40 years old). Some people have dubbed claims against the majority religion, race or gender to be “reverse discrimination” but there is no such term codified in the actual laws. Our team of employment lawyers have blogged about this before. (What Is Reverse Discrimination?; National Origin Discrimination Claims Can Be Based On Reverse Discrimination; Can White People Sue For Race Discrimination?; Can Men Win Gender Discrimination Claims?).
While the burden to prove the case is a little different, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that an employee “who brings a ‘reverse discrimination’ suit under Title VII should be able to establish a prima facie case in the absence of direct evidence of discrimination by presenting sufficient evidence to allow a reasonable fact finder to conclude (given the totality of the circumstances) that the defendant treated plaintiff ‘less favorably than others because of [his or her] race, color, religion, sex or national origin.’“ Iadimarco v. Runyon, 190 F.3d 151, 163 (quoting Furnco Constr. Corp. v. Waters, 438 U.S. 567, 577, 98 S. Ct. 2943, 57 L. Ed. 2d 957 (1978). Under this law, the employee is not required to present direct evidence, but only enough evidence to create an inference of discrimination. Pivirotto v. Innovative Systems, Inc., 191 F.3d 344, 352 (3d Cir. 1999).
If you feel that you are being discriminated or harassed based on your religion or religious beliefs or that you were wrongfully terminated because of you are Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, Hindu or any other religion, the best course of action you can take is to call the right attorney at 866-797-6040 to schedule a free and confidential consultation. At Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, you will meet with a religious discrimination attorney, who will be able to tell you what your legal rights are and the best way to protect them.
The materials available at the top of this religious discrimination blog and at this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking, “How do I …”, “What should I do …,” “Can my boss discriminate against me because I’m (Jewish/Muslim/Mormon/Hindu)?” or “I was fired for my religious beliefs. The answer to “What can I do?”, is to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular religious discrimination or other employment law issue or problem. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.